The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi and Dhaka box themselves into corner

New Delhi, Feb. 4: Both India and Bangladesh appear to have been caught in a Catch-22 situation over the fate of 213 snake charmers and their families stranded along the zero line of the border in Cooch Behar.

Both sides are hoping that it will be the other flank which will blink first. Neither seems to be in a mood to give in, fearing that such a move may have an adverse political impact back home.

“We are very clear in our stand. They are Bangladeshi nationals and it is for Dhaka to decide what they want to do with them,” a senior Indian official said.

Foreign ministry officials claimed in Delhi that it was the Bangladesh National Party government which has landed itself in a jam.

“Bangladesh knows that they have goofed up by trying to push the people onto the Indian side. Now they are not in a position to take them back.” He said the tough stand taken by Bangladesh is mainly because it fears that there will be a domestic backlash in the event of a climbdown.

India is drawing a distinction between the past and the current crisis. When people crossed over the border to seek jobs in India in the past, they did so without the active support of the government in Dhaka.

“But the current situation has given a new dimension to the entire problem. This is for the first time that illegal migration is taking place with the government’s connivance,” an Indian official said.

India is cutting a brave public front on the situation, but several officials conceded in private that Delhi does not have too many options.

By giving food and medicines, though on humanitarian grounds, India has already committed itself. If Dhaka wants to act tough and continues to be indifferent towards the suffering of the stranded, there is little that Delhi could do.

“We will see it for a day or two. Then we may be forced to take some tough action,” a foreign ministry official said.

He added that if push comes to shove, India would also refuse to provide the stranded humanitarian assistance. “If Bangladesh does not care for its nationals, why should we'” the official asked.

He pointed out that any Indian shift at this juncture would set a precedent that could be exploited by Bangladesh later.

Going by the tough stand taken by the two sides, an early solution to the crisis seems remote unless the political leadership intervenes.

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